Diego Garcia: Wikileaks confirm Greenpeace-backed `marine protection zone' was a ruse; Police ban socialist protests

Image removed.

US warplanes take off from Diego Garcia.

[Read the Mauritian socialists' open letter to Greenpeace -- `Don't help cover up colonialism's crimes on Diego Garcia' HERE, warning the organisation that it is being manipulated by the US and British governments. This has now been confirmed by Wikileaks.]

By Clency Lebrasse

December 17, 2010 -- Rabble.ca -- Six months ago, I wrote a piece for rabble.ca describing the appalling treatment of the people of the Chagos Islands [which includes Diego Garcia] in the Indian Ocean by the British government.

The islands were purchased by the government of Britain in 1966 from Seychellois Chagos Agalega Company, with the initial intention of running them as a UK government-owned plantation enterprise. This proved less profitable than the establishment of Cold War strategic military bases, so the islanders were removed.

Last northern spring, amid the campaigning and bombast of the UK elections which booted out Labour and returned a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, a historic announcement was made about the establishment of a marine protection zone (MPZ) around the islands. It was controversial because it killed the hopes of the islanders of ever returning home. Many now live in poverty in Mauritius and Britain.

The islands are small pieces of land, the islanders are powerless and dispersed. They are not written about often.

When it comes to the Chagos Islands, successive British governments have engaged in ignoble conduct. When the British government produced a feasibility study which suggested the islands were inhabitable and were in fact sinking, it was swiftly followed by plans announced by the US government to expand their base on Diego Garcia.


Then, on December 3, the saga took a new turn. Whistleblower website Wikileaks confirmed the worst of suspicions by releasing a document, as part of the US diplomatic cables leak, that stated the marine reserve was established primarily to legally block attempts by the Chagossians to return to their homeland.

When they read the document, those at the heart of the situation became even more angry, thanks the tone of British bureaucrats.

In the leak, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office director of overseas territories, Colin Roberts, was reported to have used hugely offensive language when describing the Chagossian community as being comprised of "Man Fridays". It was shocking that even in these days, Roberts, who was also commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territories would use language that echoed a predecessor called Dennis Greenhill, who in 1966 described the Indigenous islanders as being a "few Tarzans or Man Fridays".

Equally offensively, Roberts went on to state:

We do not regret the removal of the population.

These comments by Roberts were recorded in the cable under a subsection entitled, "Je Ne Regrette Rien". This was directly in conflict with his boss at the time, UK foreign minister and Labour MP David Miliband, who remarked shortly after the House of Lords judgement in October 2008 that: "I should repeat the government's regret at the way the resettlement of the Chagossians' was carried out."

Manipulation of environment movement

Another damning admission by Roberts in the document was the comment that the "environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians' advocates [in this case]", ensuring that the two sides would be at odds and presuming the islanders' claims were less significant.

During Miliband's consultation on the proposals, a submission was received from Greenpeace which strongly supported the plans to set up the MPZ. While stressing that they opposed the presence of a US base, they were in complete support of the zone and felt that there was:

...an overwhelming case that the British government should declare a full no-take marine reserve for the whole of the territorial waters.

Ben Fogle, joint patron of the UK Chagos Support Association (UKCSA) who was supportive of the MPZ, wrote in a letter last week that he had been "duped" and was particularly angry during an open letter to the Guardian newspaper when he wrote:

I now regret my support of the marine sanctuary and look forward to joining the islanders in their campaign to return home.

The Chagos Islands officially became an MPZ at midnight on November 1, 2010, just weeks before the Wikileaks releases, and much to the delight of environmentalists. The development infuriated Mauritius and led to a diplomatic spat. Princess Anne was snubbed during her visit to Mauritius by the Navin Ramgoolam, that country's prime minister.

Strategic military base

But why did the British take this route to begin with? To help the US to a military base in the centre of the Indian Ocean, a place as strategic today as it was when the USSR existed? To shut down all claims from a people who would live alongside such a base?

According the The Guardian newspaper the answer is "yes."

In May 2009... Roberts... told the Americans Diego Garcia's value in 'assuring the security of the US and UK' had been 'much more than anyone foresaw' in the 1960s, when the plan to set up the base was hatched.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North and long-time friend of the Chagossian cause, was furious following the revelations from the leaked documents. He said that, "Colonialism is alive and well in the Foreign Office" and called it a "disgraceful abuse of the Chagos Islanders."

Six months ago, I condemned the creation of the MPZ as being an attempt to "pre-empt the forthcoming judgment" from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has been expected in the latter part of this year and is now due to take place in early 2011.

At the time of writing this, Greenpeace has yet to formally respond to the submission that the world's largest marine park was actually part of a wider ploy to deny the Chagossians their right to return home.

The leaked documents reinforce the idea that nothing the British government says in relation to the Chagos Islands can ever be taken at face value.

I am thankful for the Wikileaks revelations. My friends and I dread to consider what helplessness we would all have felt had this information come out in a few years' time. As angry as Chagossian supporters are, there is a feeling of hope that perhaps it is still not too late for the sins since 1966 to be finally addressed and for an exiled indigenous community to be finally allowed a return home.

[Clency Lebrasse is a UK-based freelance journalist, activist and second-generation naturalized Mauritian citizen living in Nottingham, England. This article first appeared at Rabble.ca.]

Mauritius: Police ban demonstration against British removal of Chagos islanders

December 2, 2010 -- The revolutionary socialist organisation Lalit's planned demonstration, during Princess Anne's visit, has been prohibited by the commissioner of police. The demonstration was to have protested against the autocratic royal "decrees", an anachronistic and undemocratic form of feudal "law", used in order to break up Mauritius before independence and in order to banish the Chagossians in 2004 after they won the right to return.

This demonstration follows the Lalit's Conference on Diego Garcia and Chagos held one month ago. The demonstration came just as the Wikileaks site published damning evidence of the British state and the US administration having cynically used British environmentalists in order to create a pretext to assure that the Chagossians do not return to live on Chagos and to assure that the Mauritian state, so far known for its docility, does not take the matter to the UN.

Lalit's open letter to Greenpeace, signed by Ram Seegobin, had already warned the organisation of it being used by the militarists for their war strategies. It has now become public knowledge that the whole of the area is open to military waste, and that the "Marine Protected Area" is just a trick designed to keep the people of Mauritius and Chagos out. Funds were even given to another environmentalist organisation, according to Wikileaks, in order to promote the infamous "Marine Protected Area".

At the same time, Princess Anne is in Mauritius for the bi-centenary of the British taking Mauritius over from the French, and a commemorative "ball" is to be held to reproduce the famous Lady Gomm ball, for which occasion the governor's wife sent out invitations, the only mail using the famous "Blue Penny Stamp". The ball was to be held on December 3, and the protest was to have been on the same day.

The police have banned the demonstration under the Public Gathering Act which stipulates that the police commissioner has to give written authorisation for any demonstration held in Port Louis on any day that parliament meets. It was decided yesterday during debates on the budget that the National Assembly will meet today. The police commissioner used his discretion to object to the holding of the demonstration.

Lalit's letter to Princess Anne regarding Diego Garcia royal decrees

Today Friday, December 3, following the banning of the Lalit demonstration against Princess Anne during her visit to Mauritius, Lalit representatives delivered a letter to the British High Commissioner in Port Louis. Ragini Kistnasamy, Rajni Lallah and Alain Ah-Vee, all leading Lalit members, delivered the letter in person. Some 30 Lalit members and supporters gathered to inform anyone who came to the demonstration because they had not heard that the it had been banned.

Royal decrees, made at Buckingham Palace, and signed by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne's mother, were the undemocratic instrument used to dismember Mauritius, to ban Chagossians from the islands. This was the reason for the protest. The protest came at a time when Mauritian government spokespeople were responding to the shocking Wikileaks revelations on the Diego Garcia issue.

* * *

Princess Anne, Princess Royal,
c/o British High Commissioner, Port Louis.

Dear Madam,

We write to you, as representative of the British Monarchy, on the occasion of your visit to Mauritius. The Monarchy that you represent has been the source of certain autocratic powers on which the British State has relied in order to perpetrate a series of actions which have caused great suffering to the Mauritian people, including the people of Chagos. Some of these actions have been illegal, others immoral, and all of them based on anachronistic decrees decided behind the back of elected Parliamentarians of your own country.

We refer to the "Queen's Order in Council" made at Buckingham Palace, an "Order" that illegally dismembered Mauritius. It reads:

"As from the date of this Order in Council the Chagos Archipelago, being islands which immediately before the date of this Order were included in the Dependencies of Mauritius, shall together form a separate colony which shall be known as the British Indian Ocean Territory. [Statutory Instrument Made 8 November 1965 at the Court at Buckingham Palace.]"

There was then a so-called Immigration Ordinance of 1971, enacted by the Commissioner for BIOT who is appointed by the Monarch. This Ordinance banished the Chagossians from their homes. Since the 2000 judgement in favour of the Chagossians, and even as recently as 2004, there have been further "Orders in Council" that over-rode the decision of the highest courts of your land.

It is today one month to the day that the Mauritian Prime Minister said "Des Anglais hypocrites, menteurs et malhonnêtes" ("hypocrites, liars and cheats") in respect of the actions of the British State regarding the matter of the "Marine Protected Area". The recent Wikileaks documents show that the Marine Protected Area was, in fact, designed for defence reasons -- to keep the Chagossians out, whatever be the judgement of the European Human Rights Court, and to keep the Mauritian State at bay in its quest for sovereignty -- and not because of some sudden love for the environment. The fact that your visit is one month after the coming into force of the Marine Protected Area and coincides with the publication of the Wikileaks documents makes the official nature of your visit all the more unacceptable.

We call on you, as representative of the Monarchy, to take note of our protest against the illegal dismembering of our country and the banishment of our co-citizens, the Chagossians, from their Islands, by Royal Decree, and also to take note of our protest against this form of monarchical and undemocratic decree.

Yours faithfully,
Rajni Lallah
For Lalit, December 3, 2010